'After Cop26, the Scottish Government must go further and faster': Leslie Evans looks ahead

2020 may have been a year like no other, but 2021 was a chip off the old block and relentless from day one. The Scottish Government's top official tells us about 12 more months of dealing with Covid while pushing ahead with new challenges
Photo: daniel0685/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

By Civil Service World

17 Dec 2021


What was your highlight of 2021?

The successful delivery of the Cop26 summit in Glasgow was a great highlight for the Scottish Government. Not only did we work closely with partners including UK Government colleagues in order to support a safe and secure event on a scale of which we have not seen before, we set clear objectives for Scottish Government participation in Cop26 itself, having a positive impact on the global outcome and enhancing Scotland’s pathway to net zero.

It also felt very good to launch In the Service of Scotland – the Scottish Government’s new vision and values. Created in consultation with colleagues, it brings the Scottish Government workforce together on our common cause and what gets us out of bed in the morning – making life better for the people of Scotland. 

How did you tackle the biggest challenges facing your organisation in 2021? 

During my time as perm sec I have often spoken about the importance of being able to manage and lead during “VUCA” times – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. 2021 provided the opportunity to test that capacity. 

The continued management of the pandemic response and EU exit, the launch of the Covid Recovery Strategy, and supporting new Scottish Green Party ministers following the cooperation agreement, all alongside delivery of a new programme for government, presented a high level of concurrent risks and challenge. 

The organisation undertook a rapid reprioritisation exercise, reviewing and agreeing focus, and evaluating both the quantity and the quality of our work. We assessed where and how to intensify effort – and make sure it was the right kind of effort, where to reduce or revise work programmes, and agreed the risks and assurances underpinning these decisions in order to deliver with impact. 
All this really tested our agility and capacity to flex and flow in line with evolving demands. I am very proud of how the organisation rose to that challenge. 

What is your number one priority for 2022?

This answer is quite different from those of previous years: my term as perm sec comes to an end on 31 March after almost seven years in post. 

"There’s a renewed sense of responsibility after Cop26 to go further and faster, to face up to tough challenges as well as the relatively easy options, and to help raise the bar of world leadership more generally"

Two key priorities for the organisation will be the delivery of our climate change objectives and leadership on child poverty. There’s a renewed sense of responsibility after Cop26 to go further and faster, to face up to tough challenges as well as the relatively easy options, and to help raise the bar of world leadership more generally. On the second priority, collective leadership is required across Scotland to meet the National Mission on Child Poverty and deliver the Scottish Government’s child poverty legal commitments and targets. 

My personal priority for next year is to take a short break and then start a new chapter in my career – very exciting. 

Which historical, mythical or contemporary figure would you most like to join you for a New Year’s Eve celebration?

I always spend Hogmanay with friends in Skye, around a big bonfire. 

So I would extend my invitation to Sgathaich – a mythical warrior queen who lived in her fortress on the Isle of Skye around 200BC. 

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